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The Hills Are Alive with Kimchee Tacos

Jenna Scatena | July 23, 2014 | Story California Destinations

You’ve probably driven through the vast, golden hills of West Sonoma en route to a livelier destination, like the canoe-filled Russian River or a campground at Bodega Bay. But recently the stretch of land west of Highway 101, previously considered the road trip equivalent of flyover country, has unveiled a slew of new draws, making it a getaway in its own right. Petaluma’s row of antique stores has been joined by a sleek whole animal butchery and deli and a funky taco stand helmed by a former Google chef. Farther north, sleepy Sebastopol has been energized by a trove of artisan distilleries, wineries, and restaurants. And then there are the places in between—rough ribbons of highway marked by hand-painted signs for produce stands and stagecoach stops turned dive bars—that nod to the area’s charmingly quirky history. Bear in mind that West Sonoma is still not for everyone: Businesses open and close for the day on a whim, signage is decidedly lacking, cell reception is sparse, and you can drive for miles without seeing any sign of life other than the occasional cow. But for the intrepid, the rewards are ample.

1. Farm Foraging
McEvoy Ranch is the Eden of Petaluma: tour the lush lavender fields, olive groves, citrus trees, and pinot vineyards before lazing around in the new mod tasting room. By appointment only.

2. Caffeine Pit Stop
In Sebastopol, Taylor Maid Farms’ new cafeĢ, offers a barista workshop and flaky pastries.

3. Art en Plein Air
Front yards lining Sebastopol’s Florence Avenue serve as an alfresco gallery for Patrick Amiot and Brigitte Laurent’s kitsch artwork: farm equipment turned animal caricatures.

4. Roadside Fruit
Don’t be fooled by its scrappy appearance—the stand at Stony Point Strawberry Farm (735 Stony Point Rd., Petaluma) sells utopian strawberries for $3 per basket. Look for the plywood sign with the red paint.

5. Fusion Fare
A former Google chef moved north to open the Secret Kitchen (4701 Bodega Ave., Petaluma) this spring in the boonies west of Petaluma. Behind a century-old cigarette mart, the walk-up window splashed in blue paint serves organic, local Latin-Asian bites like palm-size Korean barbecue chicken tacos with homemade kimchee and a tangy secret sauce.

6. Seductive Charcuterie
The women butchers behind Petaluma’s new charcuteria and whole animal butchery, Thistle Meats, stock their glistening cases with picnic-ready items like salumi, terrines, and a sandwich of the day (think roast beef with pickled beets and salsa verde on homemade focaccia). call ahead to pick up their “Butcher’s Box” full of thick cuts of local meat to take home.

7. Brut With a View
A surprisingly lively scene sits at the end of the long dirt road to Iron Horse Vineyards’ tasting room: Flannel-clad patrons surround the open-air bar while bottles of bubbly chill in icy tubs and music pulses from a boom box. on Sundays now through October, the miyagi-shucking duo the oyster girls host a pop-up oyster bar.

8. Cheesemongering
During the cheese-making class at Achadinha Cheese Company, you’ll tour the milking parlor and aging room before rolling up your sleeves and making some curds of your own. Make time to explore the farm and meet its more than 600 goats, and take home a wheel of the capricious, a coveted European-style handmade aged goat cheese.

9. Unorthodox Spirits
The husband-wife team behind Spirit Works Distillery met as sailors before abandoning ship to craft rare grain-to-glass gins in Sebastopol. Visit their tiny new tasting room to sample their experiments, like sloe gin using an old English family recipe or a barrel-aged gin (similar to a whiskey-gin hybrid), due out this Fall.

10. The Local Color
You’ll find a cast of characters—from bikers to hipsters to cowboys and, sometimes, even Tom Waits, an alleged regular—at the Washoe House (2840 Stony Point Rd., Petaluma). the historic stagecoach stop is now a lively dive bar that’s the epitome of funky—the low ceiling is blanketed with dollar bills that were pinned there by patrons throughout the last 160 years. Come for the atmosphere, stay for the buds.

Originally published in the August issue of San Francisco

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